All too often, staff retention is spoken about in vague, jargon-heavy terms. Buzzwords like “company culture,” “engagement,” and “professional fulfillment” are tossed around as if their meanings were clear.
The assumption is if your employees are happy they’ll stick around. If not, they won’t. That’s true. But it’s not exactly helpful.
Let’s demystify employee retention by looking at the numbers, research, and solutions. What makes employees stay? What might propel them to leave? And why should employers worry?
In a blaze of glory
According to a 2018 Gallup survey almost two-thirds of all workers feel burnout on the job, with about a quarter of those feeling it “constantly.” This directly impacts workplace productivity; burned out employees are more than 60% likely to take a sick day and are nearly three times more likely to be actively seeking another position.
And, it gets worse. Even if a burned out employee does stay, that person will experience an approximate 13% drop in confidence levels in relation to their job. Unreasonable workload and lack of management support were two of the main causes leading to burnout.
Looking for ways to maximize productivity whilst also reducing on-the-job stress may seem at odds. It’s not.
Tried and true employee retention strategies include
Reducing noise and distractions
Allowing employees greater autonomy
Cocreating performance metrics instead of handing them down
Measuring productivity first and only then looking for ways to improve it
Providing employees with easy and inviting spots to collaborate and connect with colleagues
Introducing more natural light into the workspace, which has been shown to increase employee productivity and decrease the presence of negative moods
Let’s do lunch
According to recent research by TSheets, the average UK lunch break is 35 minutes, which is bang in the middle of the range around the world (19 – 44 minutes). And it’s not too bad compared with Australia (31 minutes), Canada (34 minutes) and the US (36 minutes).
However, with over 40% stating that having a break of some kind makes them more productive, it’s worth paying closer attention to this refueling stop in the middle of the day.
Of those who said they do not take a lunch break, 49% cited overwork as the main culprit.10% cite company culture, saying it’s because they want to impress their manager, they’d feel guilty, or they want to do what everyone else does.
The lesson here is that everybody needs a break.
If nearly half your employees feel better once they’ve had a lunch break, sacrificing an hour or so of the workday is a small price to pay. Additionally, a lack of breaks leads to the real productivity and retention killer: burn-out.
Free time doesn’t mean wasted time
Over the last decade, the perception that giving employees free time at work has changed from being a sign of sponsored waste to an example of workload management.
Different organizations have approached the problem differently. Some (like Google) have allowed employees to allot 20% of their work week to projects they choose. Others have encouraged employees to seek outside training or take the time to learn a new skill.
Why this shift? Because more work doesn’t mean better work. According to research at Stanford University, once an employee works more than 49 hours in a week, per hour productivity starts to drop.
In fact, it’s been estimated that a person who works a 70-hour workweek on paper, actually only gets the equivalent of 56 hours of work completed. Talk about wasted time and extra stress.
Along these lines, employee retention means valuing their time and the quality work they are capable of, by loosening demands on over-40-hour work weeks.
Your team needs time away from the daily grind, just like you. Without it, they will not only lose perspective on their work but also the motivation that propelled them to do it in the first place.
Don’t overlook inclusivity
One of the biggest buzzwords for the past couple of decades has been diversity. Whilst many managers and organizations understand the broad strokes of making their companies more diverse, they might be overlooking diversity’s long-lost cousin, inclusion.
Harvard Business Review recently highlighted that a key way to foster employee satisfaction and retention is to look beyond “free coffee and tea in the breakroom” and casual Fridays.
Instead, allow your employees to be who they are
Sometimes referred to as “identity cover,” think of inclusion this way—your company is having its annual picnic and family is welcome to come. Does that mean Mike can bring his same-sex partner? What will the reception be like? Or if Kate avoids putting up pictures of her kids for fear that she’ll be seen as “less serious” about her career, what kind of stress does that add to her worklife?
While these may seem like small issues, the more comfortable an employee feels in the workplace, the more engaged and motivated they will be. If you’ve ever spent any time keeping a secret, even about something as benign as a surprise party, you know how exhausting it can be. Imagine trying to keep a secret about your core self from the people you work with 40 or more hours a week.
For managers and business owners, the biggest roadblock to inclusion might be the employee themselves. Depending on their past workplace experiences, it might be difficult for Mike or Kate to genuinely accept that this office is different.
The best way to approach these discussions is via one-on-one interviews with employees, or surveys. However, a word of caution on the former—if you’re going to sit down with a handful of employees, make a plan to sit down with all of them. Nothing zaps an employee’s motivation faster than seeing the boss dote on someone else.
Sit down and talk it through
As a final insight, a Qualtrics study from 2018 identified two major factors relating to employee retention.
Being happy with their work-life balance was the number one element of employee satisfaction. However, the number one driver for employee retention was having a manager who helps to oversee their employees’ workload.
It’s obvious these two things are related. A manager that clearly and accurately helps an employee to prioritize tasks—especially when overwork is so rampant in the marketplace—will also impact that employee’s work-life balance.
As a leader, consider covering the following issues in a weekly or bi-weekly meeting:
Review upcoming tasks and benchmarks as well as big-picture thinking regarding long-term projects
Discuss any current setbacks to the employee’s workload: malfunctioning equipment, unresponsive co-workers, supply issues etc
Allow the employee plenty of time to ask questions; while you want to get an update on their workload, the meeting is really for them to learn how to manage their time
Set actionable and achievable goals; ending a meeting with ambiguity and not action items is a recipe for further work overload
Staff retention never goes out of style
It’s not easy to keep employees happy, five days, forty hours per week. However, it’s easy to see that doing so will result in less expense for your company, and that hiring and retaining the right employees directly impacts your bottom line.
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